The Myth of a Man
In Linky Friday #29, Will highlights a recent column in The Atlantic by Hugo Scwhyzer that asked, “What If Men Stopped Chasing Much-Younger Women?” His argument, that the Old Man/Young Woman relationship dynamic intrinsically harms society, was not received well by commenters, either here or at The Atlantic. His concerns about this type of relationship, valid as they occasionally are, strike me much more as a symptom of some unfortunate gender-related issues in society, rather than a cause.
Valued commenter Fnord offers a neat-and-tidy critique of Prof. Schwyzer’s writing, both in general in this particular case:
I wasn’t going to do the Schwyzer hating, but since somebody else started it…
I’ve long thought that Schwyzer projects his own issues on to all men, writes about that, and passes it off as a critique of patriarchal culture.
I, too, hadn’t planned on jumping on the Schwyzer hate wagon. I am not a huge fan. I find his writing has a thin veneer of insight that quickly cracks under scrutiny. The cries of hypocrisy are a tad unfair (we should all be afforded a second act); I tend to think that he means well… I want to believe that he means well. Yet, the critique still holds some sway. Take, for instance, this line from our self-identified feminist author:
If men over 40 spent half as much time mentoring guys under 30 as they do chasing women in that age bracket, more young men might prove excellent partners to their female peers.
Let’s put aside the question of whether or not men under 30 require a mentor – and that if they do, men over 40 have some sort of obligation to fill that role. Mentorship isn’t a bad thing. Learning the ways of the world from someone older, wiser and more experienced has some value. I doubt that’s controversial.
But why do the mentors need to be men?
It’s an incredibly sexist point of view to assume that only older men can offer the guidance that younger men need. Prof. Schwyzer offers no explanation as to why women are unable to provide this valuable service; it’s just assumed that men must take on this role.
This is patriarchal bullshit. It borders on gender essentialism, and it’s not particularly compatible with any sort of feminist or progressive view. Prof. Schwyzer is falling back on the antiquated, bigoted notion that a man has to be A Man… that there’s something so significant about our physical selves that it answers all questions as to who we are.
(And we have seen what happens when men are regarded as little more than the sum of their genitals.)
Interestingly enough, today The Atlantic published a column by Thomas Page McBee, The Discovery of What It Means to Be a Man. Mr. McBee transitioned from female to male in the middle of this supposed Decline of Men:
The problem, if you’re a man, is how you answer this question: do you have a gender? If you said anything but yes, then that’s what I mean.
Masculinity is not as a magical state defined by advertisers and secondary sex characteristics but, like femininity, a complex amalgamation of socialization, biology, style, and stereotype. Men aren’t in crisis, we’re in opportunity, but only if we can each look in the mirror and decide what kind of man we are.
But I was exhausted. I’d look at myself in the mirror after a long day of uncrossing and smiling less and saying “man” and trading facts at cook-outs, and I’d think: Is this the kind of man I want to be? It was a valid question, one I’d paid thousands of dollars and stuck myself weekly with long, sharp needles to answer. Here was my–and our–masculinity crisis.
Two years on testosterone and squarely in the middle of this grander, cultural sea-change, I can say that I’ve found a road map. Turns out, asking the question was a kind of answer, the revealing of the liberating truth of choice.
It is a significant juxtaposition with Prof. Schwyzer’s lament that men are not behaving ideally. It is the perfect tonic for anyone residing in the 21st Century.
Concepts like The Good Men Project (of which Prof. Schwyzer was a part) or Promise Keepers, politically varied as they may be, have two very significant things in common. One, they are trying to do their best to help men (according to their own definition of “help”). Two, by focusing on the significance of being a good man, they are stripping men of a bit of their humanity and re-inforcing a distinction between people based on their gender. I doubt this would be the intention of The Good Men Project, but it is the result. Any group of men that concerns themselves so much with being good men rather than good people is helping to re-build the wall between the sexes that feminism has been tearing down for decades.
We should reject this view. We should embrace the outlook of Mr. McBee. There is no faceless collective Men. There is no ideal, no proper behaviour, no pre-determined preferences. Men are simply half of the population, give or take. We’re people; nothing more, nothing less.
So should older men refrain from dating younger women? I don’t care. But we should all refrain from seeing each other as object lessons for our gender.